UNSW currently holds investments of about $50m in a portfolio of $309m in companies involved in fossil fuels (see link). These investments are held indirectly, as the University invests in unit trusts whose managers decide on specific stock allocation.
The University Council recently considered this matter and resolved overwhelmingly to maintain the current approach rather than withdraw from fossil fuel investments.
This position was reached against the background of UNSW taking very seriously the issue of greenhouse gas emissions and global warming. We are significant contributors over many years to research into cleaner coal, alternate energy technologies, low carbon living and climate change. Our world-leading work in solar energy began in the 1960s.
Moreover, we conduct this research by working closely with industry and government, believing we will have greater impact in addressing climate change through partnerships than via token political actions. And we back our views with our behaviour, running a campus with the lowest emissions per student of any of the reporting universities, according to the Clean Energy Regulator. We also invest in a range of clean energy sources such as solar panels and co-generation.
We recognise that fossil fuels will be needed for many years to come to provide the energy and materials on which millions of lives depend.
In reaching our position, we note the words of Drew Faust, President of Harvard, who warned of the risk of using investment funds in ways “that would appear to positon the University as a political actor rather than an academic institution”.
“Conceiving of the endowment not as an economic resource, but as a tool to inject the University into the political process or as a lever to exert economic pressure for social purposes, can entail serious risks to the independence of the academic enterprise. The endowment is a resource, not an instrument to impel social or political change,” she said.
Professor Fred Hilmer
UNSW President and Vice-Chancellor